Let The Rides commence…
It’s a sunny Tuesday morning west of Knightsbridge in London and I am heading for a rendezvous with one of the alumni making up new American blues group THE RIDES, namely Stephen Stills, on a fleeting visit to the capital. By all accounts, planned events on the Monday have proved somewhat shaky here and there despite the efforts of all, but today The Man is sparing time to talk to writers from magazines, nationals and a major guitar publication. I want to concentrate on the new album and how it came about. It is certainly a thrill to talk to the Buffalo Springfield, Manassas and CSNY principal with the distinctive voice and far-ranging guitar style..and forthright opinions. Not even running into the entire dark-blue clad England cricket team at the hotel before the meet spoils the morning – I ask who they are as I recognise no-one ( of course ) and they in turn make me identify the various musical and acting guests they have spotted in the lobby. I consider calling security or MI5 when they mutter about destroying South Africa, but it transpires this is a sporting reference…..
No doubt about it, The Rides is a stellar aggregation of big names – fronted by Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and keys maestro Barry Goldberg. But Stephen will not have the band given the ‘S-word’ tag…he says it’s like-minded musicians creating and not some shot at fame / notoriety / whatever…
Thanks for your time, may we talk about the material on the album, for starters ?
( Stills looks at the promo edition CD I have been listening to, to refresh his memory on the track order. The opening cut ‘Mississippi Road House’ is steady tempo, gritty chug, sounds like Stills lead vocal – PS)
SS : (Surveying ‘car’ outwork – PS) Y’know I like how this came out..it was my idea..that’s a 1953 Buick RoadMaster ..with that reflection in it, of us…it came out very good..y’see Kenny Wayne and I collaborated on all that…and my daughter took the pictures..
Really ? wow, Andy Fraser’s daughter takes his images, you too now..is that your vocal on the first track ?
Yeah. I sound like I’m eighty…
‘Edge of mean’ is how I would describe it..you’re not shouting but you mean business
Yeah well…(Laughs) ..’Edge of mean’..like yesterday’s interview ! I guess I have that voice in me, I don’t know ..that’s kinda like the story of the band in ‘Animal House’ ..now what would happen to them after they left the college campus..and not be able to find your hotel for 500 miles ?
As an opener, it sounds as though the band is in no hurry,unpressured..
No ! we actually only really took a week….the whole thing, Pete took a fortnight..we just decided to do it ..and the funny story is that I’ve known this kid for long time..it was Jim’s friend Kenny, to me..we had played together often at jams along with Mike Mills of REM, Kenny Aronov..he plays real hard and if Kenny was on the other side of him then I couldn’t always hear clearly what he did..this is all on the social side of the Indianapolis Colts sports events..and we’d go to the ball games together and be in a box..when you’re football maniacs, you only want certain people to be around when you’re watching..so we’re part of Jim’s gang .then Elliott ( Roberts, heavyweight music manager – PS) is explaining that we want to be making a blues album..we had a couple of people come on board and then fall off for various reasons..so then Elliott is on the phone to me and says we can get Kenny Wayne Shepherd and I went ‘Who?’ ( not linking the star name with football pal – PS) ..he says he knows you..so I say I don’t know who in hell you’re talking about..see, I’m at this casino in a suite and there’s a big window facing the parking lot ..and there’s literally an 8-storey marquee with huge ads for shows by…Kenny Wayne Shepherd!..with pictures..( Stills looks at me and shrugs, then laughs again – PS) so I put it all together then in my head, connecting..’Oh THAT Kenny! ‘…hey..got it..one of those ‘old man’ moments..he’s the nicest, most gracious, courteous and self-effacing ..and considerate people I have ever met. It’s just a joy working with this kid
That’s what come through, in the cuts..you’re not competing
(Nods) Nah ! I don’t have to be worried about someone getting all flash on me..more, I’m like ‘Don’t hold back ! bring it !’ and he says ‘I want to be polite’ and I say ‘Don’t be polite !’
Because you must have known some players who can’t walk on a stage without needing to be Top Dog ..?.King Pin..
I never minded that, you’re supposed to bring it..it’s not really to me competition, you’re just pushing each other…Eric Clapton gave me good lessons though in using your judgement on stage…the background was living here..living here was a great thing for me..best thing I ever did..I’ve done five of my best albums right here, recorded them just up the road…very very good for me
He’s given similar advice on stage presence toRobert Cray, I recall
Manners….Yep, same thing with me..there’s a manners thing to it all
What I like about this album is the choice of the material
Well yeah – so do I ! (Laughs) I had to play in F,,for Kenny’s voice..cos that’s where Stevie Ray Vaughn would do them
Oh tuning down the half-step
Yeah, so F would be F sharp, for me..which is an easy key to play in, Jimi Hendrix taught me how to get the best out of that
And Howlin Wolf..
Howlin Wolf, right !
It’s a B harmonica
Exactly, now that I can give, but F proper..’what are you doing to me ??’ (Chuckles) ..I did tune my guitar down for one of them, didn’t feel right at all..but we never took more than three takes on any number..’Rockin’ In the Free World’ is the first take..
Is it ???? it’s like a blues RatPack ..
Yes we are in a comfort zone of knowing how to work together, Pete – marvellously enthusiastic guys..that’s all I need, just a little encouragement
Barry’s the nearest thing to Otis Spann to me…my pal Mick Martin plays with Barry, says the same thing
Absolutely,yes..I just have to remind him that he doesn’t have to play all the time…
‘Honey Bee’..how do you pick one Muddy Waters number to do ?
Kenny picked it ! and I didn’t get in the way ..see, the first rule of the band is ‘Say Yes to everything’..cos we don’t have time to fuss with it..we don’t want to do things over and over
That’s the dynamic, because you’re cooperating, relaxed the music sounds more exciting
Let the word roll out from you and everyone – that when Stephen’s relaxed and you give his some support, encouragement he is fabulous ! (Laughs) When he’s nervous and cranky – he’s nervous and cranky !
The voices are different and that’s a big feature..you’ve always had this blues voice in the armoury, it’s on Manassas
(Thinks and sips his Coke) I use what fits, the main thing is at this stage and age is to take care of yourself, keep everything in good shape. Actually, I’ve got pretty much all my old range.as in my twenties
My favourite songs of yours are ‘Wooden Ships’ (Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane told me Stills wrote ‘the darker bits’, laughing as he said it – PS) and ‘TreeTop Flier’
We’ve started doing that again, ‘TreeTop’..
Wow – you did it at Shepherds Bush, we came to see you
Now, I’ve got this new electric acoustic guitar by Fender..a prototype..with a hollow neck they put together, rosewood and curly maple..and the sound of it is great for playing not loud and so I play it on that..it’s real cool..but yeah we can do that song with The Rides. Then we’re gona pick out some classics and make up a show to take out and play
Will you be playing here ?
Eventually..probably we need a little time for the record to percolate, then do some European shows, yeah. Given what the Bitish musicians have done for blues music over the years, you can’t be a proper bluesband without playing the UK
I totally agree..( I sense a gentle ribbing coming – PS)
And I was always imitating the Surrey Boys anyway ! Haha !
Can I ask you about ‘Word Game’ the final song here ?
(Emphatically) It’s my best rant on the album. Written a long time ago but still unfortunately pertinent – particularly in the way that they have treated Obama over the last couple of years…we just said let’s do this one and we just ran it off y’know !
There’s a thread with the Stones ‘Street Fighting Man’..street anger..a London tinge maybe
Yes. Having long hair back in the early Sixties, you got a little taste of what it (prejudice) was like ..really, humanization treating people like that ( shakes head)..it’s infuriating..I think I wrote that song here having just come back from the South in the US…my creativity exploded when was in this country..oh and I’m furious I’m going to miss The Ashes !
This third cut ‘Don’t Want Lies’.it’s very reflective , moody
We tried lowering the key cos it’s a bit high for me..but I gotta make it cos it’s really important, here
Who are the sweet girls singing here ?
Ah! Now ! – these young girls..well I happened to do a thing with Jackson Browne and he adopted this choir to participate from South East LA and I met them and now it’s a few years later and we needed a couple of backing singers so we got these two from that choir
They sound like a young version of the Fields Sisters, do you remember them ?
Oh yeah ! and these singers they’re very easy to work with, I’d teach them a phrasing and they’d do it straight away…the funniest moment of the recording session is, on ‘Rockin’ and I said I want you to come in early just here and I’ll direct you and I’ll raise my hand and then Jerry Harrison and then the engineer and all these different people all start directing..and they were all wrong ! it took half an hour to recover it then to the spot where I wanted them to come in ! (Laughs) But I only had to put my foot down a couple of times, on the whole thing. And never with Kenny Wayne, I would add
We love the Iggy Pop / Stooges song you do ‘Search & Destroy’ ( two days later and we’re watching Iggy and the Stooges do this very song, at The Royal Festival Hall – PS)
That particular area of music I loathed..so it took a bit of talking me into into it to do that song, however my daughter had me in the studio taking pictures and she said it was one of her favourite songs and you gotta do it..so I did this Keef Richards flick and then all of a sudden it got very fun, SO…and yes it was a perfect choice ..there’s fresh faces in my life, here..and that kid ( sighs) just a joy to work with
Which guitar did you use for this ?
A Strat and that prototype..the man at Fender has a racing car background and his designs, they.have a flavour that’s different, I couldn’t put it down..I’ve been using that a lot..and I have my Gretsches…I had some old Fender amps, too…I have an old black Gibson, but it weighs 50 pounds..I can’t carry that any more..my fingers go numb..I sold my best one in a fit of I don’t know what..to Waddy Wachtel years ago..I must have been DAFT !!! never forgiven myself…if I run across a god Gold Top again,I might nick it
I have seen you with a Firebird
Yeah now those are great if you can get one that stays in tune !
That’s what Johnny Winter would say
(At this point I gift Stills with a Limited Edition Marshall Amps T shirt – PS)
Thanks ! ..my hearing went to one of those..actually there’s nothing wrong with them but to get them to sound just right, they gotta go too loud…
The Rides (aka Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd & Barry Goldberg) debut album ‘Can’t get Enough’ is released by Provogue Records